David Nightingale is the photographer behind Chromasia, an award winning photoblog that was selected as “Best Photoblog” by numerous publications, and was ranked as the 6th most influential blog in the UK by the Financial Times.
Portrait © Bobbi Lane (www.bobbilane.com)
PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself and what you do?
David Nightingale: I’m a photographer, currently living in rural Bulgaria with my wife and six children, and am working on a range of projects, including; my own online tutorials; a new book; and a variety of personal photographic projects.
PP: How did you come to live in Bulgaria?
DN: We met someone who lived out here, and the more we looked into it the more we liked what we saw. The climate is great, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is very low. We still have our house in the UK, but plan on spending most of the summer months here, if not longer.
PP: Can you briefly tell me about chromasia.com?
DN: chromasia.com started in early 2004, as a personal photoblog, and for the first couple of years I attempted to post an image a day after being inspired by such blogs as Daily Dose of Imagery.
In the early days, it was definitely no more than a hobby – something different to do when I wasn’t thinking about my day job. As time went on though, chromasia became quite popular and we began to receive requests for prints, some small commissions, and so on.
In June 2005 we received a major commission from the Arts Council, UK, at which point my wife and I decided to set up chromasia as a limited company. At this time I was still working as a psychology lecturer in a UK university, and chromasia, though it was now a business, was very much a part-time concern.
Towards the end of 2006 though, two things happened. First, my university was offering a voluntary severance package – i.e. paying to get rid of some of us :) – and I was offered a contract to write a book on baby photography. Both events convinced us that we could run chromasia as a full-time concern.
Since then we’ve carried out a number of major commissions – for the Bahamas ministry of tourism, a winery in Germany, and the Dubai International Financial Centre – have written a book on HDR photography, and have established our own online Photoshop tutorials, for which we now have over 1500 subscribers.
PP: I noticed you said “we”. What role does your wife play in the business?
DN: While I’m fairly confident that I know what I’m doing with a camera and post-production, Libby, my wife, has a much better business sense than I do. For example, our online tutorials were her idea, and now form the major part of our business.
PP: How did you first get into photography? When was it, and what was your first camera?
DN: I first got into photography when I was quite young, probably about seven years old, as my father allowed me to use his camera to take the odd shot during our family holidays. With the benefit of hindsight he probably just wanted a few frames with him in too, but at the time it seemed like a great honour. :)
When I was around 18 though, I bought myself a Canon A-1 and a couple of lenses, and taught myself black and white developing and printing. I never managed to produce a print I was entirely happy with, but I had a lot of fun with the process.
PP: Do you still shoot film?
DN: No, I haven’t shot film for quite a number of years now.
PP: You have nearly every professional piece of gear Canon offers. What are your favorites?
DN: Well, not quite – I don’t have a 1DS Mark III, or a 5D Mark II. :)
As for my favourites: I love my cameras (a 1Ds Mark II and a 5D), but these are incidental; i.e. they’re just a way to capture the image, and both have their strengths. My favourite pieces of equipment are my lenses. And while I’m not sure I could pick a favourite I would probably have to say that my 35mm f/1.4 and 70-200 f/2.8 IS are the ones I like shooting with best. The one I shoot with most, which is also a great lens, is my 24-70 f/2.8, but it’s not as much fun as the other two.
PP: Could you tell us a little about your favorite lenses?
DN: The 35mm f/1.4 is a stunning lens, especially when shooting wide open, and it’s probably one of the sharpest lenses I own. In terms of features though, the 70-200 is extraordinary. Using the IS I can shoot at 1/50s, which is great for low-light shooting, the DoF is extremely shallow at f/2.8, and it also produces exceptionally sharp images. It’s only downside is that it’s really heavy.
PP: What is the item at the top of your wish list?
DN: That’s a difficult question, as there are two pieces of kit that I’d really like at the moment: the 5D Mark II, and the 85mm f/1.2. If I had to choose one of them though I suspect I’d go for the 85mm f/1.2.
PP: You seem to take a lot of photographs from strolls on the beach. Could you tell us a little about that?
DN: One of my favourite ways of relaxing is to take a walk along the beach, photographing either the landscape, or any items washed up along the shore. In some ways, though I’m not sure I could explain it all that coherently, walking along the shore and taking photographs is one of the ways I can lose myself in the moment.
PP: What would you say are the most important elements of post-processing that photographers should focus on mastering?
DN: I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that one, as post-processing is part of a much larger process – one that starts with optimising a digital exposure (assuming you’re shooting with digital kit), through understanding how best to manipulate an image to produce a technically optimal image, to achieving a goal that meets both technical and aesthetic criteria. In short, I don’t think that any particular part of the process is more important than any other. You need to understand the technology, both in terms of what it can do, and how it can be used, and you need a good understanding of a whole range of post-production techniques that will allow you to explore the creative potential that each image offers.
PP: Did you have any memorable breakthrough “AH HAH!” moments as you were learning more and more about photography and post processing?
DN: It happens all the time, but I think that the biggest breakthrough in my own work was when I realised that converting the RAW file (using ACR, Capture One, or any other software package) was probably the most significant step in producing a good final image.
PP: Could you explain a little into why that is?
DN: I think the major reason that this stage is so important is because you can make specific changes to a RAW file – during the conversion process – that result in a higher quality image than if you make the same changes during post-production in Photoshop. In other words, getting the RAW conversion right, whatever ‘right’ might mean, is probably the most important step.
PP: How many images would you say you’ve taken since starting Chromasia? How do you store and back them all up?
DN: I’ve lost count of how many I’ve taken, but it’s tens of thousands of images, all of which I store on two RAID devices: one in the UK, one in Bulgaria. My nightmare is a tech failure leading to me losing any of my images. By having duplicate RAID devices in 2 countries I’m hoping that that won’t happen. :)
PP: What is your opinion regarding HDR? A lot of photographers seem to hate it, while you’ve done quite a lot with it.
DN: I think it’s a useful technique, and one that can be used to produce very effective, if not unique, images. I also think it’s a technique that lends itself to being done badly; i.e. the software doesn’t really care what the final image looks like, and will produce quite hideous results unless you’re careful to think through how to use it and what sort of images you want to produce.
My own view, at the moment at least, is that if one of my images ends up looking like a typical HDR image, then I probably didn’t do it right. In other words, it’s a technique I use, but one where I want my own style to be the first thing the viewers sees, not the fact that it’s an HDR image.
PP: What are some of the questions you’re asked most often by your fans?
DN: The most common question, and most general one, is “how did you do that?”, i.e. how did I post-process a particular image. And this question was the impetus for our online Photoshop tutorials. An alternative, especially when I also publish the original, unedited shot, is “why did you do that?”; i.e. why or how did you decide that that’s how you wanted the final image to look?
PP: How long do you spend on the average image you post online?
DN: There isn’t an average amount of time, it really depends on the nature of the shot and the extent of the post-processing, and could be anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Typically though, I’d guess that I spend about 30 minutes to an hour on each shot.
PP: How often do you shoot? How many shots do you take during each outing?
DN: I shoot as often as I can, which isn’t often enough, and there isn’t a fixed amount of shots that I would take during a specific outing. Oddly, the shoots that tend to work best are the ones where I take less shots – where I spend more time thinking about composition, lighting, and so on. One of the best things about digital photography is that you can take thousands of shots during a shoot, and it doesn’t cost you a penny, but this is one of the worst things about it too; i.e. it’s just too easy to rattle off hundreds of shots – because you can – without pausing to think through each one.
PP: What words of advice would you give an aspiring photographer hoping to get where you are in photography?
DN: I think that the best piece of advice I can give is that any aspiring photographer should try and work out what they’re best at, then hone those skills. In my case, I’m known for my post-production – and that’s what I tend to concentrate on, at least for most of the time – but for other people, other skills will be more important.
On a more general level, we live in a world where photography is everywhere – there are countless thousands of photographers, producing good work – so being a good photographer is only a part of the story.
What’s also important is finding ways of getting your work out there – by joining photographic communities, being active in a variety of social networks, and spending time thinking through how to get yourself noticed. It’s not easy, and it’s not photography, but it is essential if you want to make any progress in the world of photography.
I read somewhere that that the business of photography is 90% business, and 10% photography, and after working as a professional photographer for the last few years, sadly, I would have to agree.
PP: Which communities are you a part of? What are some of the best avenues for getting your work noticed?
DN: I think there are two ways to get your work out there …
First, you can join any number of online photographic communities, such as photoblogs.org, photos.vfxy.com, coolphotoblogs.com, and so on. Second, I think that social media will become increasingly important in the years to come, i.e. twitter, facebook, and so on.
Social networks, in many ways, have replaced something that we seem to have lost in modern society; i.e. they are the new ‘local’ communities, played out on a global scale. As such, if you want to make progress as a photographer, being a member of such communities is becoming increasingly more important.
PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers?
DN: Historically, my favourite photographer is Ansel Adams, as he managed to marry both technical and aesthetic genius; i.e. understood his craft in a way that far outstripped many of his contemporaries, and he could use that craft to produce images that are still awe inspiring today.
From a contemporary perspective, I think that my criteria are slightly different; i.e. there are many great photographers out there, but my favourites are the ones who, in addition to producing great photographs, also have something to say and something to teach. For example, David Hobby (strobist) and Zack Arias both produce great images, but they have both taught me a lot in terms of my own photography.
PP: Who is one person you’d like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?
DN: Ansel Adams.
PP: Anything else you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?
DN: This refers to one of the points I made earlier, about honing your skills …
Practice, practice, practice, and when you’re bored of practicing, practice some more. Photography is a craft skill – you need to know your tools, and what they can do – and the only way you can truly know their strengths and limitations is through constantly pushing them and yourself to produce images that meet or exceed your creative expectations.